A pantry, dark and dusty, can so often be a place where canned goods, bought with good intent and possibility, are forgotten. Abandoned in a cobwebbed corner until the fateful day when you decide to “organize.” You reach to the back; perhaps recoil as your hand touches the abandoned can of whatever-it-is and pull it closer for further inspection and read… the expiration date. Before long the rubbish is piled high with recently expired goods — canned soup, potato chips, vanilla extract, rigatoni — all of it deemed unsuitable, all of it wasted. But it need not be.
In an effort to combat food waste, major British retailer East of England Co-op has recently begun to sell canned and dried goods for the impossibly low price of 10 pence (about 14 cents) once they reach their best-before date. They explain the policy on their website: “The food we will be selling is still edible and enjoyable past its Best Before date, but it needs to be eaten as soon as possible after purchase. It is mainly tinned and dried goods where eating past the Best Before date is still perfectly safe.”
Roger Grosvenor, joint chief executive at the East of England Co-op, heads up the company’s retail division and has spearheaded the initiative. He commented: “We are committed to reducing waste in our business and The Co-op Guide to Dating is one of many initiatives we have instigated to make the East of England Co-op as efficient as possible, reducing our impact on the environment.”
“During our trial we found our 10 pence items went within hours of being reduced, sometimes quicker,” said Roger. “The vast majority of our customers understand they are fine to eat and appreciate the opportunity to make a significant saving on some of their favorite products.”
Best- before dates appear on a wide range of frozen, dried, and canned foods and are indicators of quality, not safety. This means that though the product might begin to lose flavor or texture once past the best-before date, it is not harmful to consume. The best-before date is not to be confused with the use-by date, which is used to label products with a shorter shelf life (including meat, dairy, and fresh produce), which may be harmful if eaten after the given date. These items are not included in the Co-op’s latest endeavor.
“This is not a money-making exercise,” Grosvenor went on to explain, “but a sensible move to reduce food waste and keep edible food in the food chain. By selling perfectly edible food we can save 50,000 items every year which would otherwise have gone to waste.”
Food waste is just as big a problem on this side of the Atlantic, if not bigger — millions of tons of produce end up in U.S. landfills each year. That’s only one of several mind blowing facts about food waste in America.
Watch this video of celebrity chef and restaurateur Mario Batali discussing the pressure he feels to tackle the issue of food waste.